Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

17 Stories of Hope, Insight, and Regret after 17 Years at the International School of Brussels

The trajectory of a human life is rarely a logical affair. Beyond the simple cause and effort of our decisions and best laid plans, there’s a healthy degree of randomness and irrationality that brings depth and colour to our otherwise mundane and predictable existence.


The same can be said of a career. Most of us would admit, I think, that how we got here was more by luck than judgement. Very few of us who work in schools would likely say that this was a path laid out from the beginning. For me at least, I don’t ever recall waking up and knowing that my destiny was to be a Director of Advancement at the International School of Brussels. On the contrary, when I was 10 years old, I thought that I was going to be an archeologist, working in the shadow of the great pyramids of Egypt.


But in the words of the poet, S.Marie, “I don’t care if it was by mistake, or stroke of fate” it has certainly been my good fortune to have had this opportunity of spending the past 6,289 days as part of this extraordinary learning community.


So, in the week that I finally step away from this role, I find myself reflecting back on what this school has given me and what I have learned along the way. And while there are so many moments that I have already forgotten and plenty that I would like to forget, allow me to share a non-linear collection of 17 stories - tales of hope, insight and regret - that have shaped my own professional education over these years.

Each fragment is without commentary, because the context behind each story would take too long to explain. Together, though, they might just be sufficient to capture the most important contours of my very personal, professional journey.


  1. I changed the school logo, but next time I wouldn’t do it in my first month on the job.

  2. It took me too long to build relationships beyond my team. In some cases, I still wasn’t visible enough.

  3. I was convinced of the importance of Experience Strategy years before I knew that this approach had a name.

  4. Catching sight of my own children in the cafeteria is a pleasure I never got tired of.

  5. The best way for me to make sense of my job in education has been to read non-educational books.

  6. Many people assumed that our work was easier than it actually was.

  7. Having principles to guide our work was always more effective than detailed plans.

  8. Even if I got better at it over the years, I didn’t always listen to my team enough.

  9. International school markets have changed dramatically since the day I began, back in 2005.

  10. The best times were when we created opportunity and space to laugh.

  11. Overall, I probably spent too much time in meetings.

  12. I never believed in having my own office.

  13. Drafting communications in a crisis doesn’t become easier with time. The words just carry too much weight.

  14. Telling stories about learning without using cliches is hard.

  15. I still don’t regret using a hedgehog as part of an advertising campaign.

  16. What the school gave to my children is a gift that I cannot ever describe.

  17. The people who come after me will be better than me in many ways.


There is, of course, so much more to say and so much more that probably should have been said. For now, though, just one, final word:


Thank you ISB. When I return, it will always somehow feel like a homecoming.




Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash.


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